I grew up with a father who came from a 2,000 acre family farm and, even though he left farming behind in his latter years, he still maintained one very serious “backyard garden.” We had rows and rows of corn, beans, lettuce, onions, radishes, peppers… you name it, we had it. And this was long before the hip and trendy grow your own veggies movement became popular. We were the envy of the neighborhood and my dad would proudly give out his food crops to all our friends.
Along the way I learned quite a few things about how to grow a garden and I love the fact that I can share those treasures and lessons with my son… even if it is just with a potted tomato plant. No matter if you live in the country or in the concrete jungle, your kids can learn a lot about food from the basics of gardening. Sure they can probably help you find the baby carrots or frozen peas in the grocery, but do they know where those carrots and greens really come from? (hint – the answer is not a truck!)
How To Grow A Garden With Kids
Most kids today find it hard to believe that a lot of their food actually starts out as a seed. There is a serious disconnect when it comes to understanding where food originates. Teaching children not only about where the food comes from but also about how to grow it, helps increase their awareness of the world around them and make them more likely to eat tomatoes instead of just settling for ketchup.
Plus, gardening is a great way to connect our kids with the wonder of the earth – the fact that a seed the size of a tack can grow into a big orange carrot or cucumber. Kids really look at this kind of like a magical, mystical experience.
So – you no idea how to get started growing a garden? Have no fear, I happen to have quite the green thumb and am ready to give you a few pointers.
A common mistake beginners make is being too ambitious with their garden plans, only to be discouraged when weeds or bugs take over the plot. Make your project small enough that your child can water it and see everything. Rather than tilling a section of your yard, consider planting in containers, which will help keep weeds at bay and give your child a focus for watering. You can buy pots at a garden store or even use an old sand bucket – just be sure to poke holes for drainage. Containers are great for herbs or patio-type tomatoes but remember if you’re using containers, you may have to water your plants more frequently than if you had planted in the earth. They will dry out faster than plants in the ground.
FOLLOW YOUR CHILD’S LEAD
Not sure what to plant? Take your child to a garden store and let them pick the out the seeds. Your best bet will be flowers or vegetables with relatively fast germination periods (better for short attention spans). When it comes to flowers, think about easy-to-grow, edible choices. For vegetables, try cherry tomatoes or cucumbers and, for a quick turn around, radishes are perfect.
BUY KID-SIZED TOOLS
A well-meaning child with a garden hose can blast a baby seedling away in a matter of seconds, but you can avoid garden floods by giving your little helper a kid-sized watering can. In addition to the can, consider a child-sized clipper, trowel, gloves, and shovel – as well as a magnifying glass, so then can get in the dirt and get up close and personal with the plants.
DON’T BE AFRAID TO EXPERIMENT
Some of your plants might grow like weeds, others might be stomped out by weeds. The key is to figure out, along with your child, what works and what doesn’t. A garden can become a living science experiment, where they can compare what happens when one seedling receives fertilizer or water or sunlight and when one doesn’t. Not everything will grow in the way you expect, and that’s okay. Don’t be afraid to fail.
MAKE IT FUN
Gardening shouldn’t feel like a chore, so don’t treat it like one. Instead of saying to your child to “let’s go work in the garden” try asking them if they want to go “peek under the leaves” to see what they might find. Discovering the beginning of a pepper or an onion sprig is a really cool thing!
NO OUTDOORS? NO PROBLEM
Not everyone has access to an outdoor garden space, but apartment dwellers and others with limited outdoor space can still develop a serious green thumb by focusing on indoor plants. Try the afore mentioned potted tomato or even try planting aloe vera, which grows easily and can be used to treat household burns. And if all else fails, just visit a local pick-your-own farm where kids can see the real deal in action!
Let us know if you have any great gardening tips and by all means, feel free to share the veggie bounty with your friends and neighbors! Do you think you will grow a garden this season? What are you going to plant?
Rob Youngblood is an Emmy Award Winning TV Host, Men’s Life and Style Expert, Single Dad, Keynote Speaker, and A Guy Who Talks for a Living! You can follow him on Twitter.